“Wrong time to relax”: Ukrainian intel chief says no end to hybrid war while Putin in power

A Ukrainian soldier at the frontline in eastern Ukraine, where a war against Russian-backed troops is into its sixth year. Photo: Ukrinform 

Featured, Hybrid War, Infographics

Article by: Valeriy Kondratiuk

Valeriy Kondratiuk, head of Ukraine’s Foreign Intelligence Service

Editor’s Note

“The current Kremlin government will never accept the existence of an independent, unitary, and Western-oriented Ukraine, and will, therefore, continue to wage a hybrid war against the Ukrainian state.”

Valeriy Kondratiuk, the head of Ukraine’s Foreign Intelligence Service, reminds us that Russia is still Ukraine’s mortal enemy and the number one threat in a recent article outlining the view of Ukraine’s intelligence community. Here is its abridged translation.


Hybrid war, an armed conflict, Russia’s aggressive policy towards internal socio-economic and political processes in Ukraine, the Kremlin’s attempts to undermine the foundations of Ukraine’s support internationally are the main threats to Ukraine, according to the country’s Foreign Intelligence Service.

The strategic goals of Russia’s political regime remain unchanged:

  • returning Ukraine under Russia’s influence,
  • eliminating Ukraine’s national identity and independence,
  • establishing external control over the processes within Ukraine;
  • ceasing the sovereignty of Ukraine.

Image: Liliya Gapyuk

Russia’s political regime, using multidimensional hybrid forms and methods, seeks to achieve advantages in the military, political, economic, informational, and cybersecurity areas, and incites social conflicts based on language and religion.

Military threats

Earlier, Russia’s direct armed aggression against Ukraine resulted in the temporary occupation of Ukraine’s Autonomous Republic of Crimea and certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts (ORDLO). Among the factors that contributed to it were the weakness of collective security systems and the favorable environment in Ukraine for the activities of the “fifth column” of supporters of the Russian Federation.

By invading Ukraine, Putin’s regime destroyed the entire system of international security and international law that had been effective for decades.

At the current stage of the hybrid war, Russia has deployed a military group around Ukraine, which includes two new armies and an army corps:

  • Russia’s 20th Army is almost fully formed now, and it is about 24,000 men strong;
  • the 8th Army has about 45,000 soldiers, which includes the 1st and 2nd Army Corps in the temporarily occupied territories of the Donbas;
  • the 9,000 servicemen-strong 22nd Army Corps is a major formation that is part of coastal troops of the Russian Navy.

These units are going to become fully operational in the nearest future.

The Kremlin sees its own army as a tool for achieving its foreign policy ambitions, so the order to invade another country is only a matter of time and opportunity for Moscow.

The long-term threats Moscow include the construction of a new military base near Ukraine’s borders (in Rostov city, 60 km away from the border) for the permanently deployed units of the newly created 150th Motorized Rifle Battalion of the Russian Armed Forces.

The Kremlin is going to use its Caucasus 2020 strategic military games for political pressure on Ukraine and the West.

The drills are meant to rehearse the scenarios of attacks on neighboring countries.

The total numbers of troops and equipment involved in the maneuvers set for September will include at least 120,000 servicemen, 3,000 armored combat vehicles, about 300 aircraft, 250 helicopters, 50 ships, and up to 5 submarines.

Among the probable scenarios of the exercises is using troops to address the issue of the water supply of the temporarily occupied Crimea. Prior to its annexation, mainland Ukraine provided up to 85% of the freshwater that Crimea needs, so the Russian Armed Forces may potentially force-march into Kherson Oblast using a contrived pretext in order to establish control over the North Crimean Canal dam.

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In general, Russia has already turned the peninsula into a military base with nuclear infrastructure. Since 2016, the Soviet infrastructure for storing and using nuclear weapons near Feodosia (the Feodosia-13 facility) and Balaklava (Sopka) has been actively restored.

However, according to our estimates, a number of factors make the scenario of military aggression against Ukraine this fall untimely.

Among those factors are:

  • the declining revenues to Russia’s budget due to falling oil prices;
  • Moscow’s hopes to strengthen the presence of pro-Russian forces in Ukrainian politics;
  • the Kremlin’s hopes to use the COVID-19 pandemic to reset relations with the West;
  • the upcoming local elections in Ukraine and Moscow’s hopes to strengthen the presence of pro-Russian forces in Ukraine’s political life;
  • diversion of resources to the Turkish-Russian confrontation in Syria and Libya, and, indirectly, in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict;
  • local elections in Russia in September 2020 amid a fall of Putin’s trust ratings to 23% and an increase in protest activity.

However, history teaches that Russia has never respected the sovereign rights of other nations and it sees its state border as nothing but a line on the map.

For example, in 1918 Russia signed a preliminary peace treaty with the Ukrainian state but then started a “civil” war in Ukraine using Bolshevik detachments who ostensibly were not under its command.


Our analysis shows that in the future, Russia may transform its Ukraine-related activities into a large-scale military operation to seize more Ukrainian territories.

The factors that may lead to this include the need to divert attention from a number of domestic Russian issues, socio-economic problems in occupied Crimea, and the focus of Ukraine’s international partners on their domestic problems.

Image: Liliya Gapyuk

Political threats

The Foreign Intelligence Service records attempts of the Russian secret services to conduct special operations to bring discord into Ukrainian society and undermine the foundations of Ukrainian statehood.

Russia places its bets on systematically discrediting the Ukrainian national idea and Western civilizational choice, demonstrating the “artificiality of the Ukrainian identity and the state.”

Moscow is trying to set people of Ukraine against the “Kyiv authorities,” who ostensibly broke election promises regarding the long-awaited peace in the Donbas.

Russia’s political goal is to undermine socio-political life to such an extent when the Kremlin would be able to raise the issue of the need for “humanitarian aid” and “block oxygen” to Ukraine with its “brotherly” embraces.

In fact, these are attempts to incite a “war of all against all” in the Ukrainian territory and replace the leadership of the state in the medium-term perspective.

Economic threats

The Russian Federation is using every opportunity to wage trade and economic wars against Ukraine.

This means financial pressure, energy blackmail, gas transit, and transport blockades, ousting Ukrainian producers from their traditional markets, discrediting Ukrainian companies internationally, investment penetration into Ukrainian markets using sham business structures.

The Ukrainian intelligence has data on Russia’s “registry” of so-called “sore points” of Ukraine to use them for causing the greatest possible damage to the Ukrainian economy.

The top positions on the lists are reserved for the flagships of the domestic industry, Ukrainian ports, and transport infrastructure, fuel and energy companies, and, of course, defense companies.

Russia campaigns in the EU to impose the idea that the Ukrainian gas transport system is not reliable, propagates twisted information on corruption risks in order to undermine direct investment.

Russia is actively promoting the idea of a [de-facto] energy embargo on Ukraine via the implementation of bypass gas routes, which should be finalized with the completion of the Nord Stream-2 project and the closure of natural gas supply routes from Russia through Ukraine.

What if? Hybrid War and consequences for Europe (part 1)

Information threats

We consider Russia’s efforts to dominate the Ukrainian information space as one of the preconditions for preparing for aggression against Ukraine.

The Kremlin plans to intensify information and psychological warfare. For this purpose, it is actively using social media, targeted information operations, fakes, disinformation.

The main element with which the social foundations of Ukrainian society are undermined are manipulations of protest sentiments, based, inter alia, on patriotic feelings (language and religious questions are actively used, as well as issues of Ukraine’s external management, including due to a dependence on the IMF and other Western institutions and governments.

The Kremlin does not spare resources for this, both financial and human ones.

The provocations with attacks by alleged “nationalists” on representatives of “opposition” pro-Russian forces are inspired and inflated. False information about Ukrainian mercenaries in conflict regions and the participation of Ukrainians in mass riots in other countries are spreading around the world.

The latest example of such a special information operation is the protests in Serbia where the Kremlin spread fake news about “mercenaries from Ukraine” being involved in protests in Belgrade against the introduction of a curfew due to the growing number of patients with coronavirus.

The activities of pro-Russian television channels in Ukraine require a comprehensive assessment and response of the Ukrainian state aimed at deterring Russian information aggression.

Religion-related threats

One of the Kremlin’s forms of pressure on Ukraine is promoting the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). Russian special services, having leverage over the religious sphere, use the ROC both as a “hard” force for instigating the protests that can easily escalate into show-off clashes with law enforcement and as a “soft” force to influence on the minds of believers.

In this regard, Russia uses all available tools to counteract the process of the formation of the [independent] Orthodox Church of Ukraine by manipulating the feelings of Ukrainian believers and trying to maintain its influence on them.

Another special project of the Kremlin is the attempts to create and legalize paramilitary formations in the regions of Ukraine within religious communities and to endow them with law enforcement functions. It is about the intensified activities of pro-Russian “Cossack” organizations. Such cases were recorded, in particular, in Kyiv, Vinnytsia, and Zaporizhzhia oblasts.

Exacerbation of regional tensions

The Russian Federation is trying to exploit the historical conflicts between Ukraine and its neighbors in order to stir up enmity between the peoples and take advantage of its consequences. The efforts to rewrite history the way Moscow sees it is one of the preconditions for legitimizing its invasion of Ukraine.

Hungary and Poland

All the threats that arise around Ukraine at the regional level are in some way related to Russia’s activities. A typical example of this [exploiting the historical issues] is in relations with Hungary and Poland. Ukraine and its neighbors have managed to reach an agreement on these issues, but even here Russia keeps trying to feed chauvinism directed against Ukraine acting not only obscurely, but also brazenly.

Telling is the attempt of Russian pranksters “Vovan” and “Lexus” to prank Polish President Andrzej Duda, provoking him to speak out on sensitive issues of Ukrainian-Polish relations like their suggestion to “return Ukrainian territories… Lviv and many others.”

Other cases to mention are the detainments in Poland. In 2016, Polish law-enforcers detained Mateusz Piskorski, the leader of pro-Russian Polish party Zmiana (“Change”), for suspected collaboration with the Russian secret services and in 2018, they caught Polish citizens, members of the radical pro-Russian organization Falanga, on suspicion of setting fire to the office of the Hungarian Culture Society in Uzhhorod, Ukraine.

Belarus

The Kremlin has never stopped in its desire to absorb Belarus under the guise of “unification.” which creates the danger of turning it into a springboard for the implementation of Russia’s aggressive policies against Ukraine. With all its levers, Moscow tries to weaken Belarus as much as possible for Russia to be an uncontested partner for Minsk. This threatens to change the position of the Belarusian leadership on the “Ukrainian issue.”

Moldova and Georgia

Intelligence also keeps track of the developments taking place in Moldova’s Transnistria, and Georgia’s Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region [Russian-occupied regions of the respective countries, – Ed.], which the Kremlin uses as a proving ground for bringing pro-Russian forces to power and returning Chisinau and Tbilisi to its orbit of influence.

In Georgia, for example, Russia is using all available hybrid tools from the “fifth column” and pro-Russian media for economic blackmail to block Georgian authorities’ attempts to reintegrate territories and create NATO infrastructure on Georgia’s Black Sea coast.

What if Russia wins in Ukraine? Consequences of Hybrid War for Europe (Part 2)

Cybersecurity threats

Ukrainian intelligence community pays special attention to countering threats in cyberspace. Hacking interference in the work of critical infrastructure of Ukraine, inspired by the Russian Federation, is another tool of a hybrid war against Ukraine.

Among the well-known cyberattacks were the virus attack on Ukrainian energy companies (2015, BlackEnergy Trojan), on Ukrenergo’s Northern Substation (2016), an attack exploiting office software vulnerabilities (2017, Petya Ransomware ), a cyberattack on the Ukrainian president’s office in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (2020).

Moscow’s cyber-militarization threatens not only Ukraine but also other countries considered by Russia as its enemies or competitors. It is not only about cyberattacks and gaining unauthorized access to information and telecommunications systems, but also about the so-called operations of influence, including the attempts to use social media for manipulating public opinion, destabilizing the socio-political situation.

Terrorist threats

For Ukraine, against which Russia is waging a hybrid war using among other tools terrorist methods, the Kremlin is Terrorist #1. Examples of terrorist attacks are the MH-17 flight shot down by a Russian missile, the shelling of Mariupol and Kramatorsk, and terrorist acts against Ukrainian security forces.

Bottom line

The Foreign Intelligence Service believes that the political regime of the Russian Federation still poses the main external threat to Ukraine. The current Kremlin government will never accept the existence of an independent, unitary, and Western-oriented Ukraine, and will, therefore, continue to wage a hybrid war against the Ukrainian state.

Further developments

Russia is going to continue its efforts of undermining Ukraine using a variety of levers in order to achieve its goal of returning Ukraine to Russia’s orbit of influence.

The FIS has data available that show that with the approach of local elections in Ukraine, Russia is going to return to the practice of active pressure and provocative actions with the goal of not only sowing chaos and undermining public confidence in state institutions, but also of shaping the opinion in the West about Ukraine is a “failed state” and thus making cooperation with Ukraine toxic to Western leaders.

One of the elements, in this context, is the planting of the idea of federalization of Ukraine as the only real possibility of resolving the conflict by peaceful political means.
The Kremlin is convinced that, given the “civilizational and national heterogeneity of Ukraine and the limited influence of the central government ” (these are the definitions used in Moscow), the transition to a federal form of government would intensify the process of disintegration of Ukraine into small parts in order to reintegrate them into the “Russian world” later on, except for one territory, which they call “Galicia.”

The key point of this strategy is holding elections in the ORDLO.Russia insists on these elections without any preconditions, namely, without restoring Ukrainian control over the relevant section of the Ukrainian-Russian border and withdrawing all Moscow-controlled armed units. The Kremlin’s emissaries are now trying to sell this approach at all negotiating platforms. Any other options don’t meet Russia’s interests in securing total political control over Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts in the post-conflict period.

The FIS predicts that despite Ukraine’s readiness for a peaceful settlement process, there will be a high probability of hostile provocations along the demarcation line in the short and medium term. Our data show that the Russian handlers have already instructed Russian-controlled armed forces to use ceasefire agreements for provocation and seeking ways to discredit Ukraine as the party that first violated them.

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Translated by: Yuri Zoria

Source: ZN

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